This week in The Weekly Standard, James Ceasar argues that "Barack Obama has accomplished a rare feat: The longer he holds office, the more he diminishes in stature." He has wandered far and frequently down the road to populism, Ceasar argues, thereby frittering away all the stature his lofty campaign had earned him (and the president's office offers). Why has he done it?
It may be, however, that Obama has created a box for himself from which he cannot escape. He has so monopolized and personalized the public relations aspect of his office that now only his own voice can speak for the presidency. Profligacy in the use of public access—almost a speech a day—has made indirectness impossible. A president who has become his own chief point man puts at risk an asset that is helpful to his standing and vital for the nation’s political system: the dignity of the presidential office.
Today, we have perhaps reached the logical conclusion of Barack Obama's incapacity for indirectness. Because today, the president shows the American people how to use a website in the aptly titled "President Obama Explains HealthCare.gov."
All the techies and Obama fans will undoubtedly think it's just fab that the President himself is showing the American public the super-sweet drop-down menus on a government website, but isn't this what the Secretary of Health and Human Services or the Chief Technology Officer is for?
Instead we have the president declaring after a 1:35 tour of the site, "that's why we passed this reform. To put Americans in control of their health care." (Because nothing says "taking control of your own destiny" like having the leader of the free world sit down and guide your mouse hand.) If this is indeed why we passed "this reform," why didn't we just build a better government website from the beginning and bypass the whole turn-the-system-upside-down part?
Obama's tour of the site reveals that a hefty part of it is dedicated to teaching us about all the things Obamacare could maybe mean for us under the rosiest of predictions and without regard for unintended consequences. So, if you're a person who's having trouble getting health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, never fear! There's a tab on the homepage, which clearly states your problem is solved. If you're a person who's worried about losing your current insurance when government mandates kick in and your employer finds it more advantageous to dump you on the government, the site boasts a web video that clearly restates demonstrably false Obama talking points about being able to keep your insurance plan. See? Problem solved. Aren't you glad the president taught you how to use this site?
Obama tells the story of David Gallagher, who was denied insurance coverage because he had had a hernia in the past, stipulating that by 2014, no insurance company will be able deny him coverage for a preexisting condition. In the meantime, however, David can use HealthCare.gov to learn about the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans offered by the health care reform bill. Those are the same plans that the administration admitted in July will probably have to turn away sick people when they run out of money before 2014.
Obama also told the sad story of Thomas Wilkes, a young boy with a rare blood disease whose family is facing tough challenges, to illustrate that Obamacare among other things, "stopped insurance companies from denying coverage to children based on preexisting conditions."
Actually, insurers argued after its passage that the language of the law did not require them to cover children with preexisting conditions immediately. Just today, insurance companies won a concession on this issue from the administration, allowing them to restrict sign-up for this type of coverage for children to month-long open-enrollment periods.
In general, I think improving government websites can improve the way citizens interact with government and raise the bar for expectations of government efficiency and service to taxpayers, which are good things. Creating yet another government website to recycle talking points and make empty promises, however, is not a good use of money or the president's time.
Learn more about the very helpful, concrete, and not-at-all creepy and propagandistic nature of HealthCare.gov from this web video featuring vacant-eyed Americans of a politically appropriate mixture of races and ages repeating Obama health-care speech excerpts over the bland, soothing mass-produced elevator music that will be the soundtrack of your newfound government-endowed ability to shape your own destiny: